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Marcus Strickland Twi-Life: People of the Sun (Blue Note/Revive)

A review of the saxophonist's self-produced second album for Blue Note

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Marcus Strickland
Marcus Strickland

Saxophonist Marcus Strickland comes by his genre-mashing approach to jazz honestly. Born to a father who did some drumming in R&B and jazz bands, and raised in Miami around Afro-Caribbean rhythms, he worked with the likes of drummer Roy Haynes and trumpeter Dave Douglas before organizing Twi-Life, a concept and band centered on exploring jazz, hip-hop, and neo-soul. It’s a consciousness-forward “social music” approach that he retooled with a new core band—keyboardist Mitch Henry, bassist Kyle Miles, and drummer Charles Haynes—for 2016’s Meshell Ndegeocello-produced Nihil Novi.

Strickland travels similar terrain on People of the Sun, his self-produced second album for Blue Note. “Aim High,” at about seven-and-a-half minutes the longest track on a release that clocks in at under three-quarters of an hour, is a slow-burn jam centered on a message of positivity, with lyrics sung and co-written by Jermaine Holmes. The sonic stew is enhanced by Henry’s electric piano and some soloing and repeated riffs from Strickland’s tenor saxophone and bass clarinet and Keyon Harrold’s trumpet. Harrold, too, is featured on “Marvelous,” with Akie Bermiss’ tightly clustered vocal harmonies riding jagged funk rhythms.

For “On My Mind,” Greg Tate’s spoken-word delivery of a narrative focused on “a world formed of love” is cross-cut with Strickland’s roving bass clarinet and Bilal’s soaring vocals against electro-funk, Afro-soul textures and a heavy backbeat. Matters of the heart, too, are central to “Black Love,” its strands of interview snippets matched with swirling organ and bass clarinet. From opener “Lullaby,” launched with simmering batas and djembe and a singsong tenor melody, through closer “Spirit of the Music,” with dialogue that references Miles Davis and a soundscape referencing ’70s fusion, People of the Sun adds up to a sometimes intoxicating exploration of the African diaspora.

Preview, buy, or download People of the Sun on Amazon!

Originally Published